A Chinatown landlord is accused of tossing his tenants’ belongings into a dumpster as a lawsuit over whether the apartments are rent-regulated rages on.
The tenants of 85 Bowery, who have been unable to return home since January because of safety violations, said their landlord, Joseph Betesh, had recently asked the court to mandate they remove their belongings from the building in order to remediate an asbestos problem that was keeping them from returning.
The tenants agreed to the request, and began to make arrangements to move their belongings when they discovered on Wednesday that Betesh was putting their possessions in trash bags and throwing them into a dumpster, according to tenant representative Sarah Ahn.
“This egregious act has sent shock waves of anger and confusion among the tenants and neighbors, adding to their concerns that Betesh and the city have no intention of bringing the tenants home,” Ahn said.
A spokesman for Betesh and the owner of the building, Bowery 8385 LLC, claimed that “no usable items” were thrown away Wednesday.
“Some items removed from the building were discarded because they were perceived to be perishable food or in contact with perishable food and/or other unusable items,” spokesman Sam Spokony said in an emailed statement.
Photos of tenants opening trash bags, however, revealed items such as medication, stuffed animals and books.
Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who represents the neighborhood, called the landlord’s actions unacceptable.
“Carting out tenants’ belongings and dumping them into a garbage container on the street is not only disrespectful, but inhumane,” Niou said. “These families have been out of their homes for months now, and to be treated like this by their landlord is a slap in the face to not only them, but to everyone who has been working to get these tenants back home quickly and safely.”
The Department of Buildings first evacuated the tenants on Jan. 18 after a court-ordered inspection led to the discovery of an unstable staircase. The tenants were told they would not be able to return to their homes until the staircase was replaced and were given a March 28 deadline from the city for when the work would be completed.
Several days before the deadline, Betesh alerted DOB to the presence of asbestos in the building and the deadline for the tenants to return to their apartments was pushed back another 30 days.
The tenants believe Bowery 8385 LLC and Betesh are trying to force them out of their apartments so that the building can be converted into market-rate units, and they argue the disposal of their belongings is one more step in that direction, Ahn said.
Bowery 8385 LLC and Betesh have repeatedly denied those claims and Spokony said no further items would be thrown out unless there is an obvious health hazard.
“All items taken from the building as part of this process will be brought to appropriate storage facilities, where the families will have direct access to those items,” Spokony said. “We understand that this is an extremely difficult time for the families of 85 Bowery, which is why we are providing storage facilities at our expense, as well as providing high-quality hotel accommodations for families at our expense until they can move safely back into their homes.
“We are committed to moving the families of 85 Bowery back safely into their homes as quickly as possible.”
In February, eight of the tenants went on a hunger strike, hoping to pressure the city into setting clearer consequences for the landlord if he failed to meet the deadline, but the group ended the protest after five days due to the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations.